NFL Playoff Picture 2013: Evaluating Every Possible Scenario in the AFC

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistDecember 29, 2013

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 22:  Quarterback Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts passes during the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on December 22, 2013 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Here's what we know in the AFC thus far.

The Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts have all clinched playoff berths as division winners. The Kansas City Chiefs are locked in the No. 5 seed as a wild card team.

Now that we have that established, the real fun begins. 

If the Broncos beat the Oakland Raiders in Week 17—or if the Patriots lose—they win the top overall seed. If they lose that game and the Patriots win, New England takes the top spot. 

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 8: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots gestures during a game with the Cleveland Browns at Gillette Stadium on December 8, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Now, should the Patriots lose and the Bengals win, it will be Cincinnati that slides into the No. 2 seed. As well, a Colts win in that scenario would give them the No. 3 seed and drop the Patriots to No. 4. And, should both the Bengals and Patriots lose and the Colts win, Andrew Luck and company will earn the bye week as the No. 2 seed, while the Pats would be the third seed and Bengals the fourth.

A lot of this seems pretty moot, as its hard to imagine the Pats losing to the Buffalo Bills at home with home-field advantage still a possibility. In turn, the Broncos will likely throttle the Raiders. So for the top four seeds, the most intriguing game remains Cincy hosting the Baltimore Ravens. Lose, and the Bengals will likely have to face the Chiefs, easily the more difficult wild card team.

But which team will earn the No. 6 seed?

There are four possibilities: The Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens, San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers, believe it or not. Here's how Miami gets in:

  • Miami, Baltimore and San Diego all win.
  • Miami wins and Baltimore loses.

Here's how Baltimore gets in:

  • All four of the above teams lose.
  • Baltimore wins and Miami loses.
  • Baltimore and Miami win while San Diego loses.

Here's how San Diego gets in:

  • They win and both Baltimore and Miami lose.

And here's how Pittsburgh gets in:

  • They win and the three other teams listed above all lose.

Phew—got all that?

The Dolphins have to like their chances. As long as they win, they have an excellent chance of getting in. In fact, the only thing that can keep them out of the playoffs with a win is a San Diego loss and Baltimore win, since that would eliminate a three-way tiebreaker and instead give Baltimore the head-to-head tiebreaker. 

Nov 11, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake (91) rushes against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Not only that, but a win and Ravens loss automatically gets Miami in. That isn't a stretch by any means—the Bengals are 7-0 at home this year, while the Ravens are 2-5 on the road. Of course, a home game for the Dolphins against their rivals, the New York Jets, is no easy task. The Jets have been hot and cold this year, but they've knocked off good competition en route to a 7-8 record.

And the Chargers wouldn't seem to have an easy opponent in the Chiefs, but Kansas City has literally nothing to play for in this game, since they are locked into the No. 5 seed. Andy Reid and company will likely treat this game as a partial bye and at least sit the starters for a chunk of the proceedings.

Still, it's very possible, however slim the odds may seem, that the Steelers could get into the playoffs. It wouldn't be a huge shock if the Ravens, Dolphins and Chargers all lost and opened the way for Big Ben and company to slide into the playoffs.

And wow, how crazy would that be?


Follow TRappaRT on Twitter